- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

LINCOLN, England — Sister Mary Michael is no killjoy. Only the other day the 61-year-old Roman Catholic nun was riding around on the back of a motorbike.

But her sense of fun does not extend to “The Da Vinci Code,” a film based on the Dan Brown best-seller and starring Tom Hanks that is being filmed this week at the towering Gothic cathedral in her home city of Lincoln, eastern England.

The sister staged a 12-hour prayer vigil to protest the decision by the building’s custodians to let director Ron Howard use it in his movie of the novel, which has angered the Vatican and many other Christians by suggesting that Jesus was married and had children.

“It seems to be an attack on the very tenets of the faith,” Sister Mary Michael, dressed in a brown habit and pale blue veil, says of the story by the U.S. novelist.

“I was a little afraid that this might bring some disrepute and some badness to the city,” she says at the small red-brick apartment she uses as a Christian community center.

“I love this city and I love the people and I didn’t want anything bad to happen.”

The sister protested Monday outside the cathedral of pale yellow stone, which perches atop a steep hill of cobbled streets, as the building became a film set complete with scaffolding, giant lights and large trucks parked outside.

Although only Sister Mary Michael and a local Catholic man attended the vigil, they are far from alone in objecting to a book that has 36 million copies in print worldwide.

Conventional Christian theology teaches that Jesus was unmarried and celibate. Nothing in the Bible suggests otherwise.

Senior Vatican officials have said the book is an example of “literary and artistic parasitism,” which insults the Christian faith and should be shunned like rotten food.

The cathedral in Lincoln, a city of 84,000 people, is doubling for Westminster Abbey in the film being made for Columbia Pictures after the abbey’s Anglican custodians said the plot was “theologically unsound.”

Lincoln Cathedral’s Church of England management team takes a different view. Cathedral officials say they have received a donation from the filmmakers, reported to be $180,000.

“We don’t believe that it’s heresy or blasphemous,” says John Campbell, the cathedral’s verger, or caretaker, wired up with a two-way radio to keep in touch with the film’s production team. “It’s purely fiction, and Dan Brown recognizes that and promotes that.”

They insist their primary motivation is to increase interest in their church, the region and even the Christian faith.

“People come as visitors, and it’s our job to send them away as pilgrims,” Mr. Campbell says.

The region’s tourism officials hope to attract a new and potentially lucrative sort of visitor — “set jetters,” people who like to visit the settings of famous films.

“If you can get Hollywood to do some of your marketing for you, then that is no bad thing,” says Penny Baker, chief executive of the region’s promotion body, Lincolnshire Tourism. Even Sister Mary Michael does not want to take her opposition too far. She has sent Mr. Hanks a gift of a potted plant with a note declaring “no hard feelings.”

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